Amber Clark’s world was turned upside down when she saw a speeding car narrowly miss hitting her 6-year-old daughter, Olivia, as they waited at a school bus stop in Allentown. This frightening incident spurred Amber into action, and she launched the Red Means Stop campaign, a grassroots movement aimed at improving road safety.
At BusPatrol, we share Amber’s commitment to school bus safety and immediately began working closely with her and her community to prevent students like Olivia from being put at risk by reckless motorists.
In 2019, we collaborated with the Allentown School District to establish a pilot program aimed at capturing data on school bus illegal passings. The results were shocking – in just 47 school days, the pilot recorded over 200 drivers illegally passing stopped school buses.
Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates like Amber and our continued partnership with communities across the state, almost 2,500 school buses in Pennsylvania are equipped with automated enforcement technology. This critical tool is helping to change driver behavior and make our roads safer for all.
In the following interview, we speak with Amber about her remarkable journey, the challenges she faced along the way, and the lessons she learned from her fight for safer roads.
As a mother, how did your school bus incident hit home for you?
Initially it terrified me; we both could have lost our lives that day. It spurred me on to take action to ensure that no other parent felt as I did that day, and that no other child felt afraid to get on a school bus.
Tell us a little bit about how you became involved in advocacy work. When did you realize it was time to do something about the problem of illegal passings of school buses?
After witnessing multiple incidents at our bus stop over the first 2 weeks of school I created a facebook page to see if other parents were having the same issue. Upon finding out that hundreds of parents and children were in the same situation as we were, I decided to take action.
What were some of the lessons your learned in spearheading change in Pennsylvania?
I learned that you have to have patience, but at the same time have a sense of urgency. I learned that you need to keep speaking up or the message will die. I learned that it is beneficial to find other people with your same problem and get them involved as well, because sometimes just one voice is not loud enough. And I learned to never ever give up.
Did you have to learn and navigate the legislative process?
Yes, I did. I did a lot of research on my own before I even contacted anyone, however I learned a great deal about the legislative process throughout this journey.
When you were making your arguments to elected officials, what messages did you find to be the most compelling?
The messages I found to be the most compelling were the ones that came from my child, and videos. Once the legislators saw the problem actually occurring, they could not deny that something needed to be done. Another message that I found compelling was the petition I started. I got thousands of signatures from people across our state, and once the legislators saw that their constituents had the same concern and were no longer afraid to voice their concerns, they took action faster.
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about automated photo-enforcement?
I found the biggest misconception was how the program is of no cost to the school districts. Once people understand that it is 100% VIOLATOR-FUNDED they were much more open to listen. People automatically assume that the taxpayers are responsible for any kinds of local/state improvements, which is true most of the time.
What are some of the ways in which more people can become educated around stopping for a school bus?
I think adding more questions to the state driver’s license exam would be beneficial, as well as including bilingual literature about stopping for school buses whenever anyone has to renew their licenses. Many times people who move here from US territories do not have to take the state exam; all they have to do is get their license transferred and they may not be aware of our laws about school buses. It should be mandatory that PennDOT provide this multilingual literature to anyone getting/renewing a license or state issued ID.
What advice would you give to other parents who want to get involved and act on issues impacting school bus safety?
OPEN YOUR MOUTH, GET ORGANIZED; and FOLLOW UP. Talk to people to find out if they are going through the same thing. Take videos and photos. Cultivate a healthy relationship with your local law enforcement, specifically the chief of police and anyone in charge of the traffic division.
Befriend local bus drivers to let them know you are on their side. Once you have gathered enough evidence start attending school board meetings, city council meetings, and reach out to your local and state legislators to ask how they can help you get the message of bus safety out to the public.
If you are parents in a state that does NOT have legislation to allow for the civil enforcement of your school bus passing law, do as I did and download copies of the legislation from the states that DO have these laws in place (they are easily searchable and available in PDF a majority of the time), print them out, and get yourself an in-person meeting with your local/state senator or representative and ask them to draft a bill to get the same law in place. Almost 20 states have the legislation, not just 1 or 2.
Lawmakers need votes, and they know that parents on a mission will do/say anything to protect their children and they will do what it takes to keep you happy.
That being said, you also have to realize that things take time for reasons that you may not like or agree with; but you have to play the game if you want to win. The endgame is to protect our children, and no matter how long it takes you cannot give up. Approach your legislators with kindness and professionalism. Let them see and hear your passion but do not weaken your message with demands and negativity. Once they hear that you already have a viable solution to the problem that you are bringing to their attention, they are much more likely to take action in your favor.
Keep the public informed of your process, because people love an underdog and they love to cheer you on. You’ll get a lot of support in this way, and the lawmakers will move quickly when they see people are rooting for them/your cause.